LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A medical professional screening travelers at Los Angeles International Airport has tested positive for coronavirus, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed Wednesday.
A DHS spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday, “Late last night, DHS headquarters was alerted to a situation where one of our contracted medical professionals conducting screenings at LAX international airport had tested positive for COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.”
The individual began to exhibit cold-like symptoms on Saturday, Feb. 29, more than a week after working their last shift at LAX on Feb. 21, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The next day, the individual visited their primary care doctor and received a COVID-19 test, which came back positive.
“This individual is currently under self-quarantine at home with mild symptoms and under medical supervision. Their immediate family is also under home quarantine,” the spokesperson said.
The department reported that the “individual wore all the correct protective equipment and took necessary protections on the job.”
“At this time we do not know if this case is a result from community spread or through their work as a medical screener. There have been no positive COVID-19 detections reported from the LAX screened travelers. This is an evolving situation that the CDC, DHS and county public health officials continue to examine,” the spokesperson said.
At a city council meeting, the Interim CEO of Los Angeles World Airports Justin Erbacci said they are working with the CDC and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to make sure they are implementing proper screening techniques.
“We have been screening passengers that are coming in from China mainly, and those who have been in China for a previous 14 days,” Erbacci said. The screenings later expanded to travelers that had been in Iran in the last 14 days.
Many travelers at LAX Wednesday heard about the screener who had tested positive.
“Definitely worrying about it more and more but we just hope that the people in government and local agencies know what they are doing and they are protecting us,” said one traveler.
Earlier Wednesday, health officials in Los Angeles County declared a public health emergency over the novel coronavirus as six new cases, including the medical screener, were confirmed Tuesday night, raising the total number of confirmed local cases to seven.
The L.A. County Department of Public Health held a news conference Wednesday to announce that it was declaring a local health emergency that will allow the county to access more resources — including state and federal funding — to help fight the outbreak.
“These actions support our preparedness efforts, including effectively mobilizing needed resources and partnerships, enhancing continuity of operations planning, and seeking and utilizing mutual aid, all in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” LACDPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer told reporters.
The six cases were confirmed by a local lab, Ferrer said. One person is hospitalized and the other five are quarantined at their homes. Three of the new patients contracted the disease while traveling together in Northern Italy.
There have now been a total of seven confirmed cases in L.A. County dating back to January. The very first case — a patient who had traveled from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak — was reported on Jan. 26. That person has since fully recovered and is no longer infectious. None of the patients were exposed through community transmission.
On Tuesday night, Kaiser Permanente West L.A. Medical Center confirmed it was monitoring a coronavirus patient who was self-quarantined in their home.
“We do need folks to plan for the possibility of business disruptions, school closures and modifications or cancellations of select public events,” Ferrer said.
Also Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom declared the State of Emergency “to make additional resources available, formalize emergency actions already underway across multiple state agencies and departments, and help the state prepare for a broader spread of COVID-19,” according to his office.
The LACDPH will begin ramping up COVID-19 testing at its laboratory, one of 10 such labs across the state which has received test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, people are advised to avoid handshakes and hugs, and not share utensils and linens. If they’re in public places, they should try and maintain a distance of six feet from people they don’t know.